I Have a Colour TV But I See No Colour

Growing up, I longed to see a character on TV just like me. Whenever I watched my favourite shows on Disney Channel, I pined for a tanned little girl with curly brown hair and brown eyes. But I could never find one.

Whilst shows like Wizards of Waverly Place, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Hannah Montana often piqued my interest, I felt as if I was unable to relate to their experiences, and not just because they were wizards, or living in a hotel or a famous pop star living a double life. No. I felt a disconnect purely due to my failure to see anyone who replicated the scenes of diversity I had always taken to be normal in my childhood.

As a child, I had very little knowledge of the concept of race. I knew my mother was chocolate-brown and my father was pink-vanilla, but the colour of someone’s skin never crossed my mind or influenced any of my decisions. And rightly so. Yet, I cannot help but wonder how children of colour would feel if they did see someone on the TV screen who struggled to comb their hair in the morning, or wore a hijab or enjoyed eating cultural food, or indeed many of the other experiences that are relegated to simply inhabiting a subnormal narrative.

This is an idea which unfortunately does not stagnate in childhood. It translates, albeit subtly, to adult television and film. Minority characters are seen on-screen, but far too often they are simply the vacuous best friend, providing a quirky sub-narrative whilst the protagonist is otherwise engaged and then often disappearing from the storyline entirely, after production have ticked their racial minority box.

Whilst white is the norm, minority groups often find themselves relegated to just that: a minority, a background, a token, a quota. If this was indeed how life actually worked, I doubt there would be a problem. But the truth of the matter is, the stories of people of colour are equally important to that of their Caucasian counterparts. Despite this, when we compare the screen time of these actors, directly contrasted, it simply doesn’t add up to a well-rounded portrayal of the realities of society.

Racial depiction often proves to be far down the pecking order in our list of priorities. We’d rather just binge-watch the latest Netflix series and then get on with our day. Besides, we tell ourselves, race portrayal shouldn’t have an impact in the media, characters are characters and we connect with their stories, not their colour. But when we erase or whitewash minority groups, we simultaneously erase their narratives, their stories, and the opportunity for education. And with a poll from the Independent stating that 78% of respondents of all ethnic backgrounds believe that the media’s portrayal of minorities encourages discrimination, representation is clearly an issue on the brains of many, but on the lips of few.

Education is important. It allows us insight into cultures we may have no prior working knowledge of, preventing offence and ignorance. When I saw the episode of That’s So Raven… in my childhood that addressed discrimination in the workplace, I became aware these issues were real, more real than anything I’d ever been taught at school. When I was older, Scandal’s Olivia Pope and How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating taught me that it’s okay to be a powerful woman of colour, speak your mind and get exactly what you want. And transphobia on Orange is the New Black, showed it was all too real for minorities to contribute to a suppressive ideology.

Now, people of colour are coming to the fore. Zendaya’s K.C. Undercover and Disney’s Doc McStuffins provide diversity for children, inspiring them to pursue certain career paths and imparting a boost in self-confidence. Grey’s Anatomy, Black-ish, Empire and The Get-Down promote a myriad of races and sexualities, emblematic of society, a society that is real and a society we strive for.

The importance of balancing the character with their culture is important. Representing a person of colour accurately in TV and film is not simply about throwing in a comment or two, a veiled reference to their heritage. It’s about multi-dimensional representation, full character development and an equal footing to their compeers.

So how about we try considering the minority narrative? I’m not talking about getting rid of white people from the mass media, that would be entirely inaccurate within itself, something that would do more harm than good. But casting well-rounded minorities shouldn’t simply be a result of societal backlash or improving the bottom line of networks; it should be a natural thought, entirely engrained into the fibres of Hollywood and similar production powerhouses. Only then can we take steps towards a revolutionary and yet entirely normal portrayal of society.

rebekah

Rebekah Evans is a first year English Literature student at King’s College, London. She writes comment pieces.

Image: Chanicka Culcleasure from Fly-Moon music video

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irisemagazine

I RISE Magazine is an online platform dedicated to showcasing the stories, talents and trials of women of colour and non-binary people of colour in educational institutions. Our aim is to collectively represent, lead the way and inspire ourselves and future generations.

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